A guide for immigrants published for the Government has been described as “not fit for purpose” by a North East academic.
Prof Thom Brooks of Durham University said The Practical Guide to Living in the United Kingdom features numerous errors and omissions.
It provides information on health, education, work and volunteering to newly arrived migrants and is designed to help migrants understand the legal requirements for short and long-term residency ‘to settle in quickly and enjoy your new life’.
Prof Brooks, himself originally from the US and a British citizen since 2011, says he uncovered surprising omissions such as how to report emergencies to the police and calculating and paying income and council taxes. He also found outdated information.
He said: “The Government published a new citizenship test in 2013 which was like a bad pub quiz. They claimed migrants should know more about their responsibilities than rights to claim benefits.
“Ironically, the new Practical Guide includes more information about claiming benefits than ever before”.
This article was written by Leah Green, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 21st May 2014
Changes to the habitual residence test, designed to make it harder for European Union migrants to claim benefits, mean UK citizens who have been abroad for an extended period cannot claim jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for the first three months after their return.
It means that people who travel for more than three months – including gap-year students, graduates and people taking career breaks – are being denied JSA to help them while they find a new job.
The new rule came in on 1 January, the same day it became legal for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria to enter the UK on work visas. In a government-issued statement on the new rules, the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system.”
However, in attempting to combat predicted “benefit tourism” from eastern Europe, the government has made it impossible for UK citizens returning from abroad to claim as well.
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said:, “British-born citizens who have been travelling, doing internships or living abroad temporarily shouldn’t be treated in the same way as those coming into our country for the first time.
“Habitual residency rules should be about making sure people who are new arrivals to the UK, and have not yet made any contribution or commitment to this country, do not claim benefits they are not entitled to. British citizens are in a completely different situation, and the government should recognise that.”
Rosie Smith, 24, and her boyfriend Alexi Dimond, 29, are both from Sheffield and returned to the country in March after almost six months living and doing voluntary work in Thailand. Smith had been in the same city since she was born. She wanted “a bit of a change”, she said: “I had been in Sheffield my whole life. I just wanted six months not in Sheffield.”
Smith saved money from her job as a nursery nurse, while Dimond worked in administration at an NHS dental hospital. When they got back, they wanted to look for work immediately and registered with the Jobcentre the next day. Dimond claims the person asking him questions for the habitual residence test was “very apologetic” for even making him undergo it.
He was told he was not, under the new benefits rules, considered habitually resident in the UK and would have to wait three months before claiming JSA. “I thought it was outrageous really,” he says, “I’ve contributed tax for the last six years working for the NHS. I think it’s ridiculous I’m not entitled to anything.” He now had no money at all, he said, and was relying on friends for food. Smith has moved back in with her parents.
Alongside his job, Dimond had done voluntary work with asylum seekers for five years before leaving the UK. When enquiring at the Jobcentre how he was supposed to survive, he was handed a leaflet entitled Emergency Help in Sheffield. It is the same leaflet he was issuing to asylum seekers before he went away. “It’s basically the help you get when there is literally nothing else,” he explained.
British citizens have always had to take a habitual residence test before being granted benefits, but only since the rules changed on 1 January have people been told they automatically fail for spending time out of the country.
Sam, 25, is back living with his parents in Manchester for the first time in seven years after being refused JSA on his return from a year in the Netherlands where he was doing a master’s in psychological research.
Sam had hoped he would get a job as soon as he got back “but that’s not the case,” he said, “so I applied for jobseeker’s soon after I got back.”
He was taken aback to have his application for benefits turned down. “I think if you’re looking for work you should get jobseeker’s allowance. That’s what makes sense,” he said.
Sam’s parents are providing his food and shelter, and he is dipping into savings to travel to job interviews in London. He realises he is lucky to be cared for, claiming it is unfair on others “who don’t have that support. You would think then that support should come from the government.”
However, he is sympathetic to a tougherstance on immigration, agreeing that migrants “shouldn’t be able to claim [straight away] if they come from abroad.”
Emma Birks, 36, was a volunteer co-ordinator at a worker’s co-operative in Birmingham before deciding to go travelling in south-east Asia. “I’d been putting it off and putting it off,” she explained, “and then sometimes you think ‘life’s too short’.”
Since she got back in March, Birks has had no home and has been living between the houses of “three or four” charitable friends. She has been surviving by taking handouts and using credit cards. Because of her work, she knew about the habitual residence test and never dreamed she would fail it. She describes her situation now as “a bit demoralising and humiliating.
“The whole point of jobseeker’s allowance is to help you in that interim period where you’re looking for work, trying to find a new start or whatever. To me, that’s the whole point of jobseeker’s and it’s just failed me basically,” she said.
Dimond agrees. When we speak, he and Smith are at the beginning of five days of agency work, stopping people in a Doncaster shopping centre and collecting surveys about the facilities. He has had to borrow the money to get to work, and estimates he already needs “about six months” to catch up on his debt, assuming he gets a job soon. “It’s seriously affected my job search,” he said. “I don’t have money to get to interviews.”
Smith thinks they are victims of statistics. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “are just trying to get as many people off their system so they can make their numbers look better … so they can say hardly anyone’s signing on anymore. But they’re just disqualifying everyone,” she said.
A DWP spokesman said: “It has always been the case that any UK national who chooses to live or work in another country for an extended period must, if they return to the UK and want to claim benefits, satisfy the habitual residence test by proving they have strong ties to the country and want to remain here.
“People who have paid enough national insurance in the UK do not have to wait for three months before claiming jobseeker’s allowance.”
The spokesman did not respond when asked how much national insurance was enough, but none of the people interviewed were exempt from waiting three months.
The announcement of the changes in December confirmed the the introduction of the new three-month period in which people cannot claim benefits.
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 May 2014
A Tory MP worth £110million is raking in £625,000 a year from his hard-up tenants’ housing benefit – despite blasting the “something for nothing” welfare state.
Richard Benyon – Britain’s richest MP – runs his vast property empire from a mansion on his sprawling country pile.
But last night he was accused of cashing in off the back of the very handouts his party pledged to slash – as it emerged a string of other Tories were doing the same.
Just last month the MP, 53, said: “The average household spends £3,000 per year on the welfare state. This figure had been rising inexorably and unaffordably.”
Mr Benyon has also attacked the Labour Party over payments and said: “Labour want benefits to go up more than the earnings of people in work. It isn’t fair and we will not let them bring back their something for nothing culture.”
He is a director of the Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Limited, which owns most of the land and property linked to his family.
It got £625,964 in housing benefit from West Berkshire council last year, more than any other private landlord in the area.
Eileen Short, of Defend Council Housing, fumed: “How dare Richard Benyon lecture us about ‘something for nothing’ when he is living off the poorest and milking taxpayers all the way to the bank?
“It’s not tenants who gain from housing benefit, but some of the richest people in Britain. They get richer at our expense – and blame us while they’re at it.”
Mr Benyon is likely to pull in thousands of pounds more from properties in other areas, too, as his firm owns 20,000 acres of land from Hampshire to Scotland and 300 houses in Hackney, East London.
His office refused to comment on the figures or confirm whether Englefield got more housing benefit from other councils. Buy-to-let landlords and property tycoons like him will bank a total of £9.2billion in housing benefit this year.
It costs more than £23 a week, or 29% more in housing benefit, for a council to house a tenant with a private landlord than with a housing association or social not-for-profit landlord, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.
Mrs Short added: “It’s time we stopped greedy private landlords living off housing benefit. Instead of subsidising them, we ought to cut rents not benefits, and invest in housing that’s really affordable. Let’s get these people off our backs.”
Our investigation, with the GMB union, comes after it was revealed yesterday that UKIP’s housing spokesman Andrew Charalambous was making a fortune off migrant tenants on welfare – despite leader Nigel Farage calling for a ban on foreigners claiming the cash.
The millionaire pocketed £745,351 in housing benefit from occupants, who he admitted included immigrants.
Our probe also uncovered a number of other Tories and donors who also bagged cash through housing benefit tenants last year –
Baron Iliffe’s firm got £195,072 from West Berkshire council. His estate is worth an estimated £245million. He and his wife have donated £50,000 to the Tories.
Peer Lord Cavendish benefitted from £106,938 in housing welfare last year from Barrow council in Cumbria through his shareholding in Holker Estates.
The Earl of Cadogan, who has given £23,000 to the Tories, has received £116,400 in benefits from Kensington and Chelsea.
And MP Richard Drax’s 7,000-acre Morden Estate got £13,830 from Purbeck council, South Dorset, last year. A Morden spokesman said: “We don’t comment on these things.”
On top of Mr Benyon’s haul from tenants, his family farms have also received more than £2million in EU subsidies since 2000.
Once a year the multi-millionaire – whose great great grandad was PM Lord Salisbury – hands out food to poor families as part of a 16th century tradition. He recently came under fire for scrapping plans to dredge the Somerset Levels. He was also criticised for claiming poor families wasted too much food.
Our investigation is based on Freedom of Information Act requests made by the GMB union, which has many members who rely on social housing. There are 1.8 million households on the waiting list for council homes. Despite Government pledges to tackle the welfare bill, the annual cost hit £24billion this year.
The DWP said: “Housing benefit provides a meaningful safety net for people, whether they live in social housing or in private rental properties, and it’s sensible that both of these options are available to people.”
Source – Daily Mirror, 24 Feb 2014
> A masterful summing-up of the UK today…
Scaremongering and celebrity obsession ensures the true picture of life in the UK remains forever obscured, writes Joyce McMillan
It’s never a good idea to fly into a rage in a public place; but there it was, a provocation so absurd and extreme that fury seemed the only sensible response. It was a magazine cover, lovingly displayed in a shop in central Edinburgh a few weeks ago; on it was a picture of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, with a caption that read, “Not only the woman of the year, but the woman of the century.”
No-one seemed to find this odd, even though the century has barely begun; no-one was objecting, at least in public, to the idea that the perfect role-model for a generation of young women, struggling to earn more than £7.50 an hour, is a woman whose career suggests that the world is your oyster, so long as you can arrange to be born rich, to marry into the royal family, and to devote all your energy to standing around looking silently pretty in weirdly old-fashioned clothes.
And although the bizarre values of the celebrity magazine that published this cover might seem a far cry from the current debate about the UK economy, and the strange “recovery” it is now experiencing, it seems to me increasingly clear that the nation’s tolerance for the economic policies to which it has been subjected since 2008 is somehow bound up with the hallucinatory extremes of celebrity culture that now pervade our national life, inviting people to empathise not with themselves and those around them, but with the rich and famous.
This week in the House of Commons, the Tory benches could be heard roaring with joy at the news that British economic growth has returned to the heady level of 2.4 per cent a year, and that unemployment has dropped to just over 7 per cent. And when Ed Miliband tried to point out that this “recovery” is not much use to an average British earner whose real income is still £1,600 a year lower than it was in 2008, he was literally shouted down, by Tory MPs hysterical with triumph at the news that their beloved financial sector is once again growing by leaps and bounds, promising ever more lavish times for their friends in the City.
Ed Miliband is in the right of the argument, of course, so far as the current round of statistics are concerned. As a TUC report released on Monday made clear, the current increase in economic activity in Britain is mainly confined to London, with unemployment still actually increasing in the north-east and south-west of England. 80 per cent of the new jobs created since 2010 are in sectors where the average worker earns less than the living wage of around £7.95 an hour. Many of those “in work” are on poverty wages, and are being forced to work part-time or on zero hours contracts.
And astonishingly, the government actually includes in its “in work” figure the large number of people – more than a million, since 2010 – who have been forced to work for nothing, either in unpaid internships, or as part of the government’s own workfare scheme.
The truth about Britain, in 2014, is that ours has become a low-wage, low-output, low-productivity economy, with chronic under-employment and little job security, and with economic growth driven only by increasing household debt; indeed it would be interesting to know what proportion of the current upturn is directly related to the recent development of yet another London property bubble, supported by the government’s generous help-to-buy subsidies to those already on the property ladder.
If this is the real story of what’s happening in the British economy, though – a steady corrosion of ordinary workers’ earnings and benefits as a share of the national wealth, all designed to pay for a deficit almost entirely caused by the banking crash of 2008 and the subsequent bailout – it is not a story that most people have ever heard. The controlling narrative, as we all know, is the one about how the financial crash was caused by excessive public spending and an over-generous benefits system; the one about how we were all “living beyond our means” and have to pay the price; the one about how blaming rich bankers for the crash they caused, or expecting them to change their behaviour, is pointless and immature; the one about how migrants and benefit scroungers are the problem, and attacking them will provide a solution.
And it’s not difficult to grasp how this desperately skewed account of reality – actually false at every point – meshes with a television schedule that ranges neatly from Benefits Street to Strictly Come Dancing, offering viewers first a precisely-chosen group of underclass hate-figures, then a sustained orgy of identification with a series of celebrities; it’s a perfect, instinctive symphony of elite ideology, designed to divide ordinary people against themselves, and so to continue to rule.
All of which is elementary stuff, of course, for any boss class facing troubled times; distract the people by hatemongering and scaremongering, provide enough glitzy distractions and royal events, convince them that economic problems are just symptoms of personal moral failure – and hey presto, you can fool most of the people, almost all of the time.
And this time, too the tiny elite who are now trousering an ever-greater share of the world’s wealth have a peculiarly strong advantage, in that there is almost no organised resistance; just the odd protest, a brief and disparate occupy moment, and a steady thrum of dissent from the beleaguered trade union movement, which is about to become the main victim of the fiercely authoritarian Lobbying Bill currently passing through Westminster.
The idea that there is no alternative to George Osborne’s tired 1980’s neoliberalism may be intellectual and historical nonsense, in other words, disproved by the very breath of history, here in Britain and elsewhere.
Yet unless those of us who oppose his world-view begin to unite, to organise, to start arguing out a more truthful and compelling narrative in every workplace and community on the planet, our chances of challenging this new age of extreme inequality will be slim indeed; as slim as Kate Middleton’s tiny waist, and – in the eyes of a bamboozled generation – not nearly so glamorous, so interesting, or so important.
Source – The Scotsman, 23 Jan 2014